Lately, I’ve been dealing with my dad and his failing memory. It’s fairly certain that he’s suffering from alzheimer’s disease or some other sort of senile dementia. Whatever the cause, it’s clear he can no longer take care of himself and I’m facing the task of taking his life away from him for his own good. It will be a desperate and bitter battle, but in the end, he will lose. He will lose everything except maybe a few old memories–and at some point, even those old memories will be gone.
Which got me thinking…what must this be like? To not remember what just happened, only what has long since passed? So I plucked an old memory out of my past to filter through what I imagine would be a failing mind. I haven’t dug too deeply into this yet…for fear.
I know I don’t remember. Don’t you tell me there’s something wrong with me. I know. I know. Leave me alone. These things you keep jabbing me with…you keep poking me with…leave me alone. They hurt. They make me angry and they hurt me so stop. Stop it. Just stop it.
What does this matter? Why are you so concerned? I know what I’m doing. Just the other day my friend was here and we had a lovely time. What friend? My friend! You don’t know her. She’s been around longer than you have. We used to play out back together. I’d climb the tree while she was on the swings. She used to hang by her knees from the bar on the swing set. I made her fall once. She was hanging there and I took my arm and put it under her legs and brought it up, unhooking her at the knees and down she went right on the top of her head.
I got in trouble for that.
But she was okay. No harm done.
I used to fly on the swings. Oh yes, I flew as high as the tree limbs. The wind I whipped up — pumping my legs harder and thrusting farther, flying higher and faster — it was all in the gut. You pump from the gut. And when I got up as high as the chains on the swing would let me — when they would start to buckle and jerk me down — I let go. Yes, I let go and really went flying in an arc so high and so wide … ahhh … it was beautiful. Oh my god, it churned my stomach over and under and off I went. And when I started going down, I crunched my body down over my legs, spread my arms out wide and landed flat-footed in the grass. It was so good. We used to mark where we landed to see who won and I always won. Nobody could fly higher or farther than me.
I don’t care what happened yesterday. Yesterday is nothing. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t pay attention because I don’t care. I have enough things going on from long before to bother about what you think is important yesterday. Yesterday was just that. No better than today. Nothing. I’m old. I’m so old that yesterday is just as stupid and boring as you are. This is my world. It is this chair. This room. That TV. There’s no life here; nothing of interest; nothing of consequence.
Life was before. Life was when I could fly.
One time, my friend, Toni was over and we were taking a break from riding our bikes. Toni was good. She was wiry and thin and her hair was thick and long and honey colored. Mine was just blonde and staight. Nothing much to speak of although grown-ups used to touch it a lot. But they didn’t know how good Toni’s hair was and how good she was at stuff even though her dad was dead. He was a pilot and flew into a mountain and died. Anyway, we were resting and leaning back against the wall outside my uncle’s house looking at the huge oak tree across the yard. Oh, that oak tree was old and so big and so beautiful. Everybody loved living in that tree. There were squirrels and birds and even an owl living there. All sorts of spiders and bugs crawled all through the furrows in the thick bark. The tree was so big around that if all five of us kids, including Toni, hugged the tree with our arms out and fingers touching, we couldn’t get all the way around it.
So Toni and I were sitting there, just looking at the tree and everyone living there and I told her a lie. I told her I can understand the language of animals. You see, my brain is all segmented into parts. Half of it is human and then there is a biggish part that is horse. After that I have dog and cat and squirrel and bird, all in there sliced into smaller and smaller parts. This is why I can understand what animals are saying. I can understand that squirrel over there, chattering away about how she doesn’t like it when the dogs are out. And the blue jays are happy to see me and are sorry for chasing me away the other day when I climbed the tree and tried to hold their babies. They promise not to chase me home again. Oh, I was scared that day! But it was all a big mistake, just like when Mom smacked me in the face for dropping all the eggs, one by one, on the kitchen floor. So it’s okay now and if I want I can go hold their babies anytime.
Toni doesn’t believe me! She’s so mean sometimes.
But it was a lie. I can’t really understand the animals, just like I can’t fly. I thought I could. I dreamed I could and it was so real. I was standing on the landing on our stairway. I started breathing in a really special way, huffing the air into my lungs and letting only some out and huffing more and more into my lungs until when I jumped up I could stay up. I kept breathing in my special way and the more I breathed the higher I went until I was bouncing off the ceiling. And then out the door and into the sky…huffing and puffing and higher and higher. But it was hard to stay up there. It was wonderful for awhile but then I started getting lower and lower and it was harder and harder and the next thing I know I’m bouncing off the ground, struggling to gulp more air into my chest so that I can get up there again. If I can only get up as high as the clouds then I won’t have to work so hard. I can glide and turn and tumble with ease because then the clouds will be holding me up.
Oh, it’s so beautiful and peaceful and happy up here. When I’m up here I really can talk to the birds and other animals. I am alone and wonderful and full of sky. Full of god. Full of me and all the animals are me.
But I had to tell Toni that I lied and then she was really angry with me. This is probably why we aren’t friends anymore. She moved away to another street and we weren’t friends much after that.
I saw her about 20 or 30 years ago and she was happy and had a little girl and her hair was still thick and full of honey.